FORT MILL – The three-word sermon title summed up Jim Bakker‘s life as the leader of the fallen PTL ministry: Something went wrong.
Speaking to a packed house Friday night at MorningStar Fellowship Church – located on the site where Bakker’s famed PTL ministry and resort rose and fell in scandal – the former televangelist delivered a fiery and blunt message of restoration and redemption, while also challenging his listeners to prepare for the trials they are sure to face living in what he says are the last days of the Earth.
Though he frequently made mention of his time at PTL, the crux of his message Friday was the future.
“Most of you are so young you don’t know who I am, and that’s good,” Bakker said in one of several good-natured self-deprecating references.
Bakker made international headlines in the 1980s after a sex and money scandal tore apart his ministry. He freely admitted his mistakes. He also said God allowed those trials to make him stronger.
Bakker, in town as a featured speaker at a MorningStar conference, co-founded the 2,200-acre Heritage USA for his Praise the Lord ministry in 1977. The resort, located off U.S. 21 Business, included a 500-room hotel, a water park, a 21-story tower, a campground, an amphitheater and tennis courts.
The ministry fell apart in the 1980s after a scandal led to Bakker serving five years in federal prison on fraud and conspiracy charges for soliciting $158 million from nearly 153,000 followers. But through it all, he said, God molded him.
“Prison was God’s love for Jim Bakker,” he told the congregation. Bakker spoke about the need for Christians to let God mold them into the followers they were meant to be.
That’s not always pleasant, he said, but it’s necessary.
Using biblical stories of failure and redemption, along with his own life experience, Bakker’s recurring theme was of God as a potter who molds his people, even after their most tragic failures.
“I was a lump of clay that got too full of myself,” he said of his failures.
If one’s going to be a vessel of God, he said, one must be willing to be selfless. Sometimes that means trials that may seem to come for no reason, he said. But God has his reasons.
“The vessel is not finished until it has been through the fire,” he said. “If you’re going to be used of God, you will go through the fire.”
After the downfall of PTL, the property passed through several owners and reopened in 1992, only to close again in 1997.
This year, Fort Mill developer Earl Coulston completed purchasing almost 1,000 acres in the area, which is now a residential area and golf course called Regent Park. He plans to build 600 houses in York County and add commercial uses and international ministries. Coulston sold 52 acres to MorningStar Fellowship Church, which conducts services and conferences at the former Grand Hotel.
“I believe this place being restored is a testimony,” MorningStar founder Rick Joyner said before he introduced Bakker to speak. “It’s an honor and a privilege to have Jim Bakker here.”
Bakker’s past was a tragedy, Joyner told the congregation, “but, you know, the Lord works.”
The sermon was like old times for Bakker, who received a standing ovation at his introduction and numerous cheers from the congregation as he made his points. While recalling the memories of his old life, Bakker said he was a different man from the one who led his flock in that building so many years ago.
He said six years ago God revealed to him 31 things that would happen during the biblical last days.
At one point in the sermon, Bakker said he predicted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At another point, he claimed to have predicted that New Orleans would be devastated by a hurricane. He said he would reveal other revelations during the second part of his sermon Saturday, but only if there was no media present.
“I don’t profess to be a prophet,” he said, adding that God simply speaks to him sometimes. “God is getting his people ready for the last days. I am not a prophet of doom.”
Without offering specifics, Bakker predicted 2006 would be an eventful year for world troubles.
“Look around you. It’s restoration time,” he said, bringing the sermon back to its recurring theme. “It’s going to shake, folks.”
God wants his people to experience these trials “so you can come out more precious than gold,” Bakker said.
“It’s not because he hates you,” he said. “It’s because he loves you.”
As he wound down his sermon, which lasted more than an hour, Bakker said the new life his former Heritage USA site has seen through MorningStar showed the restoration he spoke of. “What’s dead will come alive,” he said. “Nothing is impossible with God.”